Thursday, May 28, 2015

Tomorrowland Review

Director:  Brad Bird
Cast Headliners: Britt Robertson, George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy
Original Release Date: May 22nd, 2015   

            One always feels an interesting feeling when at the Tomorrowland section of Disneyland or Disney World. It’s an idealized version of the future as seen in its day filled with some great rides (Star Tours) and some lame (Stitch).  But one can’t help but think we are only a part of the way to the future as seen there. We have a long way to go. That’s the theme of this film of the same land. Like Pirates of the Caribbean before it, Tomorrowland is a film that capitalizes on the ambience and theme of that attraction area and turns it into a live action film.
            After a bizarrely 4th wall breaking intro where Frank Walker (George Clooney) and Casey Newtown (Britt Robertson) argue how the actual film should be told we are brought to the 1960s. A young inventor Frank goes to Disneyland’s Tomorrowland (how meta!) and makes the acquaintance of the mysterious David Nix (Hugh Laurie) and the equally smart as him Athena (Raffey Cassidy).  Shenangins transpire that leads to him stumbling upon the titular city of the film where skyscrapers rise into the sky and robots fly around.  
            After its all too brief appearance this great world is dropped for a while to show how Casey gets involved in affairs. If I were to share specifics would spoil it and since this movie’s prime strength relies upon the element of exploration. When they do appear, the technology and enviroments brought upon by Casey’s mysterious pin are great. There is a wonderful optimistic sense of things.
            However, Casey’s performance falls into times cheesy and Clooney as the adult Frank isn’t too far behind though it fits with his trademark charisma.  The dialogue feels a bit hammy and some scenes drag out. Action is good but only in the few instances when it appears. But that’s to be expected from a Brad Bird live action film; his snappy style is evident at least.
            While it’s a fun (and mostly family friendly adventure despite the use of “hell” a lot and disingrating robots) and bright burst of optimism it is stopped from greatness by two main things. The pacing is kind of weird and builds up very slowly to be something unique. Then once the crazy other world of science that is the titular city is reached, things take a hard dip into some hard science and a villian’s motivation that is very unclear.  A lot of bang and boom happens, but it’s consequence is not really felt. 
            It’s got some rough spots, but the visuals and unique setting make it not a waste of time by any means. There’s some fun sequences and if one can deal with the stars and story it’s a decent experience.  You are better off taking a trip to the park for something truly magical however. 7.85 out of 10

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road Review

Mad Max: Fury Road
Director:  Gerorge Miller
Cast Headliners: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Hugh Keays-Byrne
Original Release Date: May 15th, 2015     

     When the original creator and director of franchise comes back for more years since the last entry in a film series there can be some mixed results.  Star Wars and Lord of the Rings did their prequels to mostly fun effect but could not live up to the originals fully. However that is not the case of Mad Max: Fury Road since George Miller has matched and even perhaps surpassed what made the original films so excellent.
            The movie has a unclear point of existence as to where it falls in the time line. It’s definitely after his debut but it’s not really clear if Max (Tom Hardy) as seen in this film is the one’s whos been the road warrior and travelled to Thunderdome as well.  The film is greatly enjoyable even to one who has never seen any of the other’s since it is covered in a brief narration/prologue segment. All one needs to know is that it’s a messed up world.
            In fact messed up is a gross understatement.  The far-future Australian outback desert wasteland is gorgeously realized. This is a seriously well thought out and unique world. From the terrifying hellish domain and attire of the War Boyz enemies to the stunning color scheme and vistas of the wasteland the film is like an exotic fruit flavor one never knew they wanted till now. 
            From the massive Citadel of the vile overlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byne) and its dark chambers to every rusted death trap of a car and vile mutant villain the film sings with life and personality. Even minor minions are memorable (that  guitar player!!) and it truly evolves the wacky raiders of the old films into something not even imaginable before.
            It’s also interesting that Max is tossed around by the plot for a first large portion of the film. He is captured and used as a human blood bag by the Way Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult) by being strapped to a enemy car.  It’s wonderful that a film is so entertaining even while its titular hero is a speck on the violent backdrop is occurring.
            The cause for the conflict which takes up the majority of the film is the  Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who has betrayed the War Boyz by smuggling the Immortan’s
“breeder” wives away to bring them to a  better life. Theron and Hardy eventually unite and they are also both mostly silent in their roles but totally awesome.  Dialogue is mainly reserved for the minions like Nux and for the wives.
            This isn’t a movie that needs much dialogue since it screams loudly at the viewer through its action scenes. Essentially, the movie is an almost a non-stop string of action. The previously mentioned gritty feeling is helped by the amazing fact that pretty much every moment and prop was physical.  This aspect raises the violence and excitement tenfold.

            Miller has used these interesting puzzle pieces to make an exciting, epic, thrilling, and at times even beautiful symphony of dark post-apocalyptic violence.  While it’s story never really moves above “get chased from spot to spot” and sometimes the spectacle on display is much to handle the film is a expert putting a lot of love into the world he created while still pushing the medium forward in ways like he once did. It certainly is a lovely day. 9.5 out of 10

Friday, May 1, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Director: Joss Whedon
Cast Headliners: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlet Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo
Original Release Date: May 1st, 2015

When reviewing the Marvel Cinematic universe, where can one possibly begin?  There’s been so many years and installments in this meta-tale that to even judge its value is a colossal task that only grows with each new entry in this epic of epics.  Avengers: Age of Ultron has some of the highest stakes in blockbuster history by having to be number two to the amazing reality breaking crossover excellence that was 2012’s film. Joss Whedon and the folks at Marvel Studios give it their best, and oh my what a crazy ride that turns out to be.            
 One knows that said crazy ride is coming by the sheer amount of spectacle that occurs before even the title name pops up on screen. In a perfect breakneck lead-in from Captain America 2, the intro finds the core Avengers team of Steve Rogers/“Captain America” (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Tony Stark/”Iron Man” (Robert Downey Jr), Bruce Banner/”Hulk” (Mark Ruffalo), Clint Barton/ “Hawkeye” (Jeremy Renner), and Natasha Romanoff “Black Widow” (Scarlet Johansson) on a mission to take down Hydra once and for all (?!?) at mountain fortress of Baron Von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann in a role that is basically a spec of a  blip on the massive radar that is this film). Explosions pop off the screen and there’s superheroic team up moves that will blow one’s mind. There’s hilarious quips intense stakes, and deep mysteries. This is an event that sort of rivals the finale of the last film in scale and it’s merely just the appetizer round.
There’s several aspects that give this film a slightly different identity to the first film and that great aspect can be found in its additional characters. Fringe-morality siblings Wanda Maximoff/”Scarlet Witch” (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro Maximoff/”Quicksilver (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) are dually interesting whether they are henchmen or conflicted rookie heroes. Their powers are quite a fresh sight to behold as well; with SW’s magic and illusions and QS’s faster-than-visible superspeed giving a whole new angle to action scenes.  To get into his specifics would be a major spoiler, but mention has to be made of   Vision (Paul Bettany) as well who steals the scenes he’s in whether it is through minor action, deep words, or mind-blowingly great powers….
The Avengers wouldn’t have to come together without a ultimate threat and this time there’s something incredibly chilling. Tony’s usual experimentation shenanigans with Loki’s old scepter and his drone suits lead to Ultron (James Spader), a fast learning and utterly evil robotic overlord.   Spader performed the voice and motion capture for Ultron and it’s excellent from visual to performance. No matter what “stage of sentience” he’s in there’s always a deep  nuance to how this robot is characterized. Even though he’s a vicious killer who has a plan that makes Loki seem tame; he’s far from cold. Spader delivers lines that make one laugh, make one afraid, and even at times make one feel a slight bit of empathetic understanding. He’s a thrilling villain who is more than a worthy match for the Avengers totally deserving of the title. It makes sense he’s a dark spawn of Iron Man; the heroic charismatic dynamo driving these films.  
While these and other (Andy Serkis as other, other humorous villain Ulysses Klaue in a small bit foreshadowing 2018’s Black Panther!!!!) additions get large chunks of the spotlight there is great improvements to the veterans as well.  Captain America and Iron Man have some of the best dramatic moments as their relationship is tenuously tested which may have future ramifications in addition to the chaos seen here. Black Widow has more insight into her past shown, and a surprisingly natural romance with Hulk. Chilling hallucinations courtesy of the Scarlet Witch are some of the best scenes for those and aid to the film’s darker tone than most in the MCU.  Of course, Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), Maria Hill (Cobie  Smulders), and James Rhodes/”War Machine” (Don Cheadle) all show up and do their usual support actions. Yes, it’s a a bit of a lot to handle as all the appearances mentioned so far isn’t even absolutely everything!
The one veteran who has been given his big shot in this is Hawkeye. This was an amazing choice to have been made for prior to this he existed only as a cameo or a brainwashed villain for the majority of its predecessors.  Renner has a lot of hidden talent that is shown in this movie. He’s funny, he’s got moral lessons to rival Captain America’s, he’s got mindblowing awesome archery skills. Between his much larger( near main-protagonist reaching) levels of focus, some of the best jokes in a movie filled with millions of them, and insights into his past Clint Barton is a wonderfully memorable part of the experience.
A good effort is made to differentiate this film from its previous incarnation through its focus on new characters and dramatic elements. However, it is still a Avengers film through and through.  Asides from the intricate tone the main directorial response from Joss Whedon comes through as “more.”   Instead of basically one extended epic action chunk of the film, there’s over three or four. Things tend to be “extremely crazy” instead of “really crazy.”  The humor comes nearly every line but luckily the writing and pace of it makes it blend seamlessly into the action as is to be expected.   Despite it’s insane ride of awesome, it loses some slight points because there’s the occasional feeling of “been there.” Hulk gets angry again and has to fight his teammates. Nick Fury defends the SHIELD helicarrier control room again.  Team members get into fights that involve more than just words again. There’s scenes of them arguing in a small room again.  While the word “formulaic” is inappropriate considering the excellent blockbuster spectacle that is most of the film it can be said that this is “more of the same.”  
And that trait will end up deciding its spot on the overarching tier of Marvel film quality in the long run. That’s a totally fine thing, as how could one complain about the comics-to-life masterpieces that are this and Whedon’s otherwork. But while it raises the stakes, scale, roster count, and visual quality it just 1% shys from perfection because it isn’t that first time again.  Overall, thank you Whedon for making Marvel dreams come true, and I think new hands will give a fresh perspective as the scales go further on even higher levels. We’re looking at a world beyond just a bickering adventuring family, and I’m so ready.  Make it even fresher.  9.4 out of 10